Casper Fire Chief Kenneth King will retire a month earlier than expected, city manager Carter Napier said Tuesday.
King announced in October 2016 that he would retire on Jan. 2, 2018, but Napier said that date has been moved up to Dec. 1. Napier did not give a reason why King is retiring earlier than planned.
King announced his retirement last year hours after he apologized for an email asking a fire investigator to delete “bad parts” from video evidence of the Cole Creek Fire. He said that the email was a joke, but apologized for “insensitive words and lack of judgement.” King sent the email to fire inspector Devin Garvin on Oct. 14, 2015, as crews were still working to extinguish the Cole Creek Fire, which destroyed 14 homes and charred more than 10,000 acres.
King became fire chief in July 2013 and has worked in the department since 1980.
Napier said last week that 28 people had applied for the chief’s position and that there were some “good candidates.” He said the position would likely be filled on an interim capacity until a new chief is hired.
A jackalope mascot named Yolo reaches out to grab a star. “Just maybe,” the tagline reads. The Wyoming Lottery’s yellow and azure-blue color scheme can be found on promotional posters at convenience stores, in the backdrop of University of Wyoming athletics press conferences and on window decals at its Cheyenne headquarters.
“It was one of those bigger than yourself projects, it was not only a big thing in our world — but a moment in Wyoming’s history,” creative manager Sarah Shoden said in a quote posted to the company’s website.
It also didn’t come cheap for the Wyoming Lottery Corporation, a quasi-government agency created by the state Legislature in 2013 but operated without the use of public funds. From its inception, the Wyoming Lottery has spent big on marketing despite turning over little revenue to the state government, according to the organization’s financial documents.
Now the lottery’s discretionary spending is coming under fire from officials representing local governments, who were intended as one of the lottery’s main beneficiaries. Both the Wyoming County Commissioners Association and the Wyoming Association of Municipalities have raised concern over the lottery’s spending and are considering asking lawmakers to force the lottery to turn more money over to the state.
The lottery earned $33.3 million last year and had expenses of $28.6 million, the vast majority of which went to prize payments, according to the independent audit included in the lottery’s financial report. About $4 million was spent on operational expenses, the largest of which was advertising and promotions.
The lottery only repaid its start-up loan and began turning money over to the state in 2016 when it remitted $2 million while spending $1.9 million on marketing. The year before, it turned over no money to the state but spent $3.3 million on marketing.
That spending was part of a minimum $7.5 million, five-year contract with advertising agency Warehouse Twenty One entered in 2014. The contract was amended last year from a $1.5 million annual spending guarantee to one worth $850,000. According to the lottery’s 2016 financial report, the contract may be extended through 2034 for a total cost of nearly $19 million over 20 years.
“The intent is to have those dollars that have been, in a manner of speaking, spent or invested by Wyoming citizens, going back to local government,” said Wyoming Association of Municipalities executive director Rick Kaysen. “How can we get more dollars back to benefit citizens in lieu of a long term and, in some people’s mind, an expensive contract?”
Promoting the lottery
Wyoming spends more per capita on marketing than every neighboring state that has a state-run lottery system, all of which are better established than the Cowboy State’s relatively new lottery. At $3.15 per resident, the Wyoming Lottery’s promotional spending is more than five times that of Montana, though it is just slightly above Nebraska’s $3 per capita rate of spending, according to an analysis by the Star-Tribune.
Idaho spends $2.38 per resident and Colorado spends $2.53.
Prior to renegotiating the contract last year, the Wyoming Lottery was spending the equivalent of $5.61 per resident, 10 times Montana’s rate.
Originally contacted by the Star-Tribune Nov. 16, lottery officials did not respond until Wednesday and said they needed more time to provide answers about promotional spending.
Lottery officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment about its marketing spending and refused to release the contract with the advertising company noted in its 2016 annual report.
“The requested contracts with our advertising agency and/or sponsorship agreements are confidential,” Lottery Security Manager David Stevens wrote in an email. Stevens cited exemptions in the Wyoming Lottery Act, which differs from the broader Wyoming Public Records Act.
Warehouse Twenty One CEO Dave Teubner said he is bound by a non-disclosure agreement with the Wyoming Lottery, which Teubner said the company signs with all clients, and could not discuss what work his firm was providing to the organization.
“We just don’t disclose any inner workings or inner contracts,” he said. “That would be super messy for us, and it’s not best practice.”
Legislative fix examined
Lottery revenue being spent on marketing is just one example of what some critics see as WyoLotto neglecting its central purpose: to raise money for state coffers.
Kaysen, from the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, said he did not fault Warehouse Twenty One for the work the company does on behalf of the lottery. But he believes the revenue from ticket sales might be better spent elsewhere.
“I know the principles of the firm that have that contract in Cheyenne, that’s not to say that they don’t do a great job,” he said. “But I think the dollars should be better realized for the Wyoming citizens.”
Wyoming County Commissioners Association Executive Director Pete Obermueller said many local officials are frustrated by the amount of money the lottery has been transferring to the state.
“In comparison to other states, it is a very low transfer and a very high operating expense, and we’re just concerned that the oversight isn’t quite there to make sure that their mission is to transfer the maximum amount,” Obermueller said.
He said the commissioners association is considering asking the Legislature to restrict what the lottery corporation can spend its revenue on. While the Lottery Act recommends capping the amount of revenue that goes toward prizes at 45 percent, Obermueller said there are no restrictions on what the lottery does with the remaining revenue or how much it must remit to the state.
Kaysen said that WAM would potentially support such legislation.
Support from local governments, which are meant to receive a portion of lottery funds turned over to the state, were crucial in rallying support to create the lottery corporation, Obermueller said. But he believes a lack of accountability means WyoLotto is not focused on transferring earnings to the state government.
“They’re not a private business but that’s exactly how it’s being operated,” Obermueller said.
Lawmakers struggling to close a $770 million budget gap over the next two years, including a roughly $100 million payment to local governments, may be sympathetic to local officials who want to see higher payments from the lottery.
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said at a legislative revenue committee meeting earlier this month that he wanted lottery officials to attend the committee’s December meeting.
“Some questions have been raised about effectiveness and how much is going to administrative expenses,” Case said. “My request is that we actually have the lottery come and talk to us.”
The Wyoming football team will end its season in Boise, Idaho.
The Cowboys will play the Central Michigan Chippewas on Dec. 22 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the bowl announced Sunday.
“Personally, our coaching staff and our players are excited about the opportunity to play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl,” Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said in a release. “We want to thank the bowl committee for this opportunity.”
The bowl will be held at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, the home of the Boise State Broncos. Wyoming played on the field’s blue turf on Oct. 21, losing 24-14 to Boise State.
The Chippewas went 8-4 this regular season, including 6-2 in the Mid-American Conference, tied for second place in the West.
Wyoming and Central Michigan have played twice. The Cowboys won 31-10 in 2000 in Laramie and lost 32-20 in 2002 in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.
Wyoming went 7-5 in its regular season, losing the final two games after quarterback Josh Allen was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Allen has not said whether he will play in the bowl game, which is expected to be his final game with Wyoming.
The Cowboys are going to a bowl game in consecutive years for the first time since 1987-88, both of which resulted in Holiday Bowl losses. Wyoming lost in the now-defunct Poinsettia Bowl last season to BYU.
“We’re excited about being in a bowl game for the second year in a row,” Bohl said. “I think it is another indication of us building a program for long-term success here at the University of Wyoming.
“I know it’s been many years since Wyoming has gone to back-to-back bowl games, and we are proud of our players for achieving consecutive bowl appearances.”
Bohl joins Dave Christensen (two), Paul Roach (three) and Lloyd Eaton (two) as coaches who have taken Wyoming to multiple bowl games.
Wyoming, which is 6-8 in bowl games, has never before played in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
“We are very excited to welcome Central Michigan and Wyoming to the 2017 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl,” said Kevin McDonald, executive director of the bowl. “There is always extra enthusiasm around the bowl when we have two first-time participants and this year will be no different.
“We have a great lineup of bowl-week events for the teams, their fans and the local community. Now we have two exciting teams with big-play capabilities who will put an exclamation mark on the festivities with a really competitive game.”
An icy winter storm made travel difficult across Wyoming on Monday, closing roads and causing crashes.
Portions of Interstate 25 were closed Monday morning to high profile vehicles between Casper and Buffalo. The Wyoming Department of Transportation advises no unnecessary travel for sections of I-25 from Glendo almost to Kaycee.
Two semi trucks jackknifed along southbound Interstate 25 near Hat Six Road in Casper, blocking the highway for a few hours.
Wyoming Highway Patrol Captain Shawn Dickerson was helping a driver stuck on the side of the road about 8:20 a.m. and watched the crashes occur. A truck was attempting to pull the car out of where it had gotten stuck when a semi truck attempted to slow down as it passed. The driver of the semi lost control, however, and the semi jackknifed and struck the truck, Dickerson said.
Nobody was injured in that crash, Dickerson said, but moments later more vehicles collided while attempting to stop on the blocked interstate. A vehicle failed to stop in time and clipped an SUV before rear ending a trailer being pulled by a pickup. Three people from that crash were transported to the hospital for complaints of pain, Dickerson said.
The crash was cleared about 11 a.m., according to a Wyoming Department of Transportation tweet.
“I would encourage drivers to slow down,” Dickerson said Monday morning. “This was entirely preventable if they had reduced their speed and been a little more careful.”
Interstate 80 from Rawlins to Laramie closed at 4 a.m. Monday because of winter conditions. The highway did not reopen for several hours.
Portions of some highways including U.S. 30 and 287 near Laramie and Wyoming Highway 789 also closed along with Highway 59 from Douglas to the Campbell County line. Stretches of other southeastern, central and northern Wyoming highways carried black ice advisories or other travel warnings.
After Wyoming experienced a mild fall, the winter storm brought colder temperatures and high winds to the region. Wind gusts were recorded up to 67 mph north of Kaycee and 54 mph south of Casper, according to the National Weather Service.
Breezy conditions were expected to linger, with wind chills down to 10 degrees below zero.
Gusts were expected to reach up to 60 mph east of the Laramie Range. Slightly warmer temperatures and drier conditions were expected to return to the state by midweek.
The now-shuttered Casper Petroleum Club plans to donate $1 million to the Casper College Foundation later this week, a former board member said Monday.
The money is the proceeds from the February sale of the club, said Gail Zimmerman, a local businessman and philanthropist who was on the club’s board in its final years.
“So the bylaws of the Petroleum Club that started in 1945 said that if they ever closed their doors, that all the assets went to the Casper College Foundation,” Zimmerman told the Star-Tribune on Monday.
The donation comes with no restrictions on its use, he said.
The sum represents the “major part” of the proceeds from the sale, Zimmerman said.
LARAMIE — One of the Wyoming fanbase's questions was answered Sunday when the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl announced that Wyoming and Central Michigan would play in the Dec. 22 bowl game in Boise, Idaho.
Now onto the next question: Will Josh Allen play?
The junior quarterback has not seen the field since injuring his throwing shoulder Nov. 11 at Air Force, and the questions of whether he would play in Wyoming's home finale against Fresno State or its regular-season finale at San Jose State remained questions up until game day.
Likewise, there is still no definitive answer from Wyoming as to whether Allen will play against the Chippewas. Head coach Craig Bohl's outlook, however, is more positive than it had been.
"Well, we had a couple light practices over the weekend," Bohl said. "Josh was out there competing and throwing, and we were really encouraged. I think the arrow is certainly pointing up as far as his progression, and so that was really encouraging. To say if he’s at 100 percent, I don’t know if between Josh and I and our sports medicine people that would be quite accurate, but he’s pretty doggone far along. Significant improvement.
"I know that’s going to be an asked question many times. I don’t have the answer right now, but I would say it would be very probable he will be at 100 percent."
One-hundred percent appears to be the key, as Allen said after the Cowboys' loss at San Jose State, the first time he had spoken to media since the injury, that he would like to play in the bowl if he was 100 percent healthy. That remained Allen's stance Monday at the Cowboys' media availability.
"Nothing’s changed there," Allen said. "If I’m 100 percent, I’m playing in the game. I owe that to this university, to this team. It’s something that I want to do.
"I’m not the type of guy that’s going to sit out just to sit out, because of what the future may hold, but I’m definitely doing what’s in the best interest for this team."
Allen warmed up for Wyoming's game against the Spartans, but was available only in an emergency capacity, Bohl said, and backup Nick Smith made his second straight start.
"The shoulder’s getting better day by day, and getting back in the swing of things with some seven on (seven) and some plays in team session the last couple days of practice," Allen said. "It felt good. It’s still not where I want it to be or where it needs to be, but the ball is coming out nicely. There are some throws that I kind of feel some pain and some throws I don’t feel anything. It’s just kind of trying to limit the pain there."
Another significant factor in the situation is Allen's status as a potential first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. In recent years, even healthy players with NFL futures have sat out non-playoff bowl games to preserve their health, including Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey last year.
Allen said that was never a consideration.
"The way I look at it is you had 12 other games," Allen said. "What’s one more going to do? I understand that it might be a meaningless game. There’s no conference championship on the line. But I mean, there’s still a lot at stake here.
"Going into our last game, getting an eighth win, it helps out with recruiting, it helps out with the whole conference. There’s a nice little competition for the conference that has the most bowl wins. So I mean, this is something that, it’s a game that there is a lot on the line, and people don’t really take account for that."
Said Bohl: "Josh and I have had some candid conversations about that. He’s all in for the Wyoming Cowboys, and that marker’s going to be 100 percent (for him to play) and so he and I both discussed that.
"He’ll have consultation with our sports medicine office, but I know Josh really wants to play. He also wants to have the best player to go out there to help us win. We believe he’ll be in that position. If he’s 100 percent, he’s going to win."
As Republican leaders come to grips with the possibility that Roy Moore will win an Alabama senate seat next Tuesday despite repeated allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against teenagers, Wyoming’s U.S. Sen. John Barrasso says its now up to the voters to decide.
Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Enzi stands by his earlier statement that Moore should drop out.
Last month, Barrasso and Enzi both said that Moore should drop out of the race following a series of sexual misconduct allegations by women who said that Moore had dated or sexually assaulted them when they were teenagers and he was a 30-something district attorney. Moore has denied the allegations.
“These are disturbing and credible accusations,” Barrasso said. “I believe Judge Moore should step aside immediately. If he doesn’t, it’s ultimately up to the people of Alabama to decide who they want to represent them in the U.S. Senate.”
That position was the consensus among most top Republicans following the allegations against Moore. But Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, who once called on Moore to get out of the race, changed his rhetoric over the weekend to say that it was Alabama voters who should decide. As the fourth-ranking Senate Republican, Barrasso is a close ally of McConnell’s, and on Tuesday, spokeswoman Laura Mengelkamp declined to say whether Barrasso still believed Moore should drop out.
“Senator Barrasso stated earlier that he would rather Judge Moore step aside so that another Republican could run and win,” Mengelkamp said in an email. “That didn’t happen. Voters in Alabama will vote to decide.”
On Monday, President Donald Trump formally endorsed Moore, and the Republican National Committee quickly followed suit, announcing it was returning at least some of the support it had pulled last month. Trump has also been accused of sexual assault by several women, but has denied the allegations.
In contrast, Enzi is standing by his initial comments, which said the allegations against Moore were “serious and disturbing” and called on the candidate to leave the race.
“Senator Enzi stands by his statement,” spokesman Max D’Onofrio said in an email Tuesday.
Barrasso, who is running for reelection next year, has been attacked by some Trump supporters for being too close to establishment Republicans and not supportive enough of the president’s agenda. While Barrasso’s stance on Moore aligns him with McConnell, it also moves him toward Trump’s position and that of Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon, a strong Moore backer who is said to be recruiting candidates to challenge Barrasso in the GOP primary.
McConnell appeared to hedge once again on Tuesday afternoon, saying that there had been “no change of heart” on Moore and that he would immediately initiate an ethics investigation if Moore is elected.
The special election is next Tuesday for the seat once held by Jeff Sessions, now the U.S. attorney general. Although the polls have showed a narrowing contest with Democrat Doug Jones, Alabama is a strongly Republican state, and Democrats generally have little chance there.
Trump telephoned Moore on Monday to offer encouragement as well as support and also argued in a pair of tweets that Moore’s vote was badly needed to push the president’s policies forward. Weeks ago, when accusations of sexual misconduct with teenagers first surfaced, Trump’s spokesman had said the president believed Moore would “do the right thing and step aside” if the allegations were true.
Two women have accused Moore of sexually assaulting or molesting them decades ago, when they were 14 and 16 and he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s. At least five other women have said he pursued romantic relationships with them around the same time, when they were 16 to 18.
Publicly and privately, GOP leaders described the allegations against Moore as credible and insisted there were no circumstances under which he should serve in the Senate.
Moore’s campaign was wounded by accusations, but the candidate has denied the allegations, saying “I do not know any of these women. I did not date any of these women I did not engage in any sexual misconduct with anyone.”
Jones, the Democrat, sidestepped questions about Trump’s endorsement while suggesting the support of national Republicans like McConnell could do more harm than good in Alabama. A former federal prosecutor, Jones told supporters Tuesday that he had done his part to ensure that “men who hurt little girls should go to jail and not the United States Senate.”
Barrasso did not respond to a question asking whether he would rather serve in the Senate with Jones or Moore.
Brad Diller, the longtime principal of Kelly Walsh High School, will retire at the end of this school year, he confirmed Wednesday.
“I’m old, you know?” he said when asked what prompted his retirement. “I’ve been in the district — I think this is my 39th year at the end of the year. So it’s still a lot of fun to go to work every day, but there are other things out there to consider, and so I think it’s just a good time.”
Diller is in his 23rd year as principal of Kelly Walsh, one of Natrona County’s two large high schools. A Michigan native, he came to Casper in 1979 to work at Mountain View Elementary as a special education teacher. He led Kelly Walsh through its recent renovation that, together with construction at Natrona County High, cost roughly $200 million.
In a statement, district spokeswoman Tanya Southerland praised Diller’s impact on Kelly Walsh and Natrona County schools.
“His commitment to educational excellence for all students combined with his caring nature has made him a tremendous leader — not only at KWHS but in the district in our community,” Southerland wrote. “His positive attitude, sense of humor, and dedication to serving as a fair and quality leader will be missed by his colleagues at KWHS and all those who have grown under his tremendous leadership within the Natrona County School District.”
Diller said his decision was not influenced by the state’s current education funding shortfall or other factors. He said he spoke with Superintendent Steve Hopkins last spring and said he was considering retirement.
“No one has come in yet and said, ‘You need to go now,’ and I don’t want to be that guy,” Diller said.
Diller said he wasn’t part of the discussions on who would replace him as principal. Southerland declined to comment.
Diller said he plans to stay in Casper and volunteer at various nonprofits in the community.
“You know, the people asked, ‘What are you going to miss? What are you going to do?’” Diller said. “It’s always been about the kids. The best part has always been the kids and so that’s something, you know, I’ve said forever and believed forever and always will.”
A woman arrested in June after a Glenrock crime spree where one of the suspects allegedly fired at authorities pleaded guilty to three felonies in federal court Thursday.
Santana Keener entered the pleas to three charges: conspiracy to distribute heroin or methamphetamine, discharging a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime, and aiding and abetting a carjacking. The firearm charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The remaining charges will be dismissed as part of the plea deal, court documents show. The details of the deal were not available Thursday as they were placed under seal.
Law enforcement arrested Keener and her boyfriend, Christopher Eads, in June after the couple fled an attempted traffic stop on Interstate 25. State troopers and agents with the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation pursued the couple as they fled. During the pursuit, Eads allegedly fired at law enforcement vehicles.
The couple’s Toyota then exited the interstate at Glenrock and the pair abandoned the car, court documents allege. While police searched the area they received a report of an elderly woman who was bleeding from the head.
The woman said that a man entered her home through the back door, pushed her to the ground, attacked her and took her car keys. The woman, who is in her 80s, was later found to have a broken rib, a broken toe and a laceration to her scalp that required 18 staples to close, the documents state.
Law enforcement later found the woman’s car abandoned in a nearby drainage ditch. Officers also found Keener, who was hiding in a field about 400 yards away from the crashed vehicle.
Police arrested Keener, who later admitted to officers that she was in the car during the interstate chase and handed a gun to Eads, who then shot at pursuing officers. She also said she witnessed Eads attack the elderly woman and steal a law enforcement vehicle. She also said she and Eads had been traveling with a “large amount of controlled substances,” documents show.
Authorities later found 18 grams of heroin in Keener’s person during a cavity search after her arrest.
The University of Wyoming is studying its lighting and landscaping and considering using a cellphone safety app as students raise concerns in the wake of a recent sexual assault.
“We’ve done a lot on sexual assault prevention, which is things like don’t like walk alone at night, call the escort service,” UW President Laurie Nichols told the Star-Tribune last week. “Students appreciate it, (but) they haven’t been as responsive to that. They would like to see us go back and really analyze the campus and point out to us areas where they think we can work to make the campus a safer place.”
Campus sexual assault, which Nichols said is a “critical issue,” has been especially prominent at UW in recent weeks. A female — whose age and affiliation with the university is unclear — was tackled and sexually assaulted by a stranger on Nov. 10 as she walked across a War Memorial Stadium parking lot. Details remain scant on the assault: The victim did not personally report the assault to police, who learned of it more than 24 hours later. Nichols said there’s little new information on the investigation, and the assailant has not been identified.
She noted that despite a common misconception, the rapist or attacker is typically known to the victim.
The attack was one of five reports of sexual assault that the University of Wyoming Police Department has received in 2017, said UW spokesman Chad Baldwin. He cautioned that that may not be a complete count of the number of sexual assaults that are reported at the school, as it did not take into account reports made to other entities on campus, like the counseling center. Final numbers will be prepared in the coming weeks.
Four of the five assaults in 2017 took place in UW residence halls or apartments, Baldwin said.
Total numbers from previous years show an uptick in overall reports, university data shows. There were 19 reports of forcible sexual assault in 2016, 14 in 2015 and nine in 2014. University police received 15 reports in 2013, five in 2012 and seven in 2011.
Sean Blackburn, UW’s vice president for student affairs, told lawmakers Thursday that the university believes that the recent increase in reports is a result of more awareness rather than more assaults. A greater number of victims may feel more comfortable coming forward now because of the university’s efforts, he said.
“So we actually see that as a success, as more students come forward to get help and assistance and get connected to the different resources,” Blackburn told lawmakers on the Joint Appropriations Committee, who were discussing the university’s budget but had asked Nichols about sexual assault rates.
Nichols, who also spoke to lawmakers Thursday morning, said she watches the sexual assault numbers “like a hawk.”
“Anytime there’s a sexual assault, we have a meeting immediately to talk about it,” she told the committee. She ticked off what officials discuss at those meetings: “What happened, could it have been prevented, what can we do about it, is the victim being provided for and what else can we do about it. So believe me, I’m – we are working on this on a case-by-case basis, but it’s that important.”
Still, students appear frustrated. Wyoming Public Media, which has reported on victims of sexual assault at the university, wrote in August that UW is facing a federal investigation for its handling of sexual violence reports. After the November assault, students held a walkout and delivered a petition to Nichols’ office that called for timelier handling of allegations, notifications of assault that happen off-campus, better lighting, and more.
“It was just a student gathering ... where they were trying to bring to light that students were, you know, not happy with where we’re at right now with sexual assault and they wanted us to do more for campus safety,” Nichols told the Star-Tribune.
She said the university has listened: The Associated Students of the University of Wyoming has formed a committee to look more closely at campus safety, and the university is studying its lighting and landscaping, among other things.
Nichols said officials were also looking at a smartphone app called SafeTrek. If a student feels unsafe in a situation that doesn’t yet require calling 911, he or she places a finger on the screen. If student feels better, he or she can remove their finger and type in a pin number. But if the situation escalates and the student needs assistance, then the pin is not entered and emergency services are dispatched to that location.
The university currently has blue lights on its campus. The system involves tall blue poles placed around campus that light up at night and can be used by people walking across campus to contact authorities should they feel unsafe.
For a little less than a year, the university has also been running its own No More campaign, part of an international effort to shed more light on sexual and domestic violence.